If you love the taste of chocolate and are on a gluten free diet, you might be wondering - is cocoa powder gluten free?
Good news for anyone with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance… cocoa powder is naturally gluten free! Not all types of cocoa powder are the same, though, so keep reading to determine which one you’ll need to use depending on your recipe.
What is cocoa powder?
Cocoa powder is made from cacao beans, so it’s a chocolate product. The beans are shelled leaving behind the cacao nibs. These nibs are then pressed or ground up into a paste and the fat (also known as cocoa butter) is removed. The dried solids that remain are further ground up into cocoa powder.
Cocoa powder is not the same as chocolate. Chocolate has the cocoa solids and cocoa butter added back in, along with sugar and an emulsifier (like lecithin) to hold everything together.
Fun fact: white chocolate is missing the cocoa powder. It’s just cocoa butter, sugar and an emulsifier, which is why it lacks that deep, brown chocolate color.
Is chocolate gluten free?
Not all chocolate is gluten free. Some companies add wheat or other gluten ingredients to their formulations, which are not safe for anyone on a strict gluten free diet.
Cross contact can also occur during the manufacturing and packaging of chocolate products, so always be sure to look for “may contain” warnings before you purchase chocolate.
Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate bars are gluten free in the US and Canada. Be sure to check out the linked post - it includes a list of other chocolate bar brands that are likely safe for anyone on a gluten free diet.
Is cocoa powder gluten free?
Cocoa powder is dried solids from the cacao bean, so it’s naturally gluten free. Certain brands may contain additional additives (like “acidity correctors”), so always check the product labeling for gluten ingredients or warnings.
Cocoa powder is perfectly safe for anyone with celiac disease, as long as the product hasn’t come in contact with any gluten during manufacturing or packaging (check for “may contain” warnings) and doesn’t have any gluten ingredients added.
Types of cocoa powder
Did you know there’s more than one type of cocoa powder? It’s true!
- Natural cocoa powder is made via the simple process explained above - the cacao shells are removed from the beans, cocoa butter removed and remaining solids dried and ground into cocoa powder. Natural cocoa powder is acidic, which impacts how it interacts with other baking ingredients. (More on that in a second!)
- Dutch-process cocoa powder is made similarly to natural cocoa powder, but the cocoa beans are soaked in an alkaline solution (which is opposite to acidic). This means Dutch-processed cocoa powder is neutral, instead of acidic. It has a darker color and mellower taste when compared to natural cocoa powder.
- Raw cacao powder is not the same as cocoa powder. It involves grinding or pressing the cacao beans and drying them out. Nothing is removed, so raw cacao powder is full of antioxidants and nutrients, but it has a much more bitter taste than natural or Dutch-process cocoa powders.
Cacao vs. cocoa - what's the difference?
When I got serious about baking, I was always confused about cacao and cocoa - aren’t they the same thing?
No. They definitely are not the same.
Cacao beans are used to make raw cacao powder, cocoa powder and cocoa products. Cacao is the most natural chocolate form - if you eat cacao nibs or use cacao powder, you’re using the most minimally processed chocolate product. There are no added sugars and cacao is full of antioxidants and nutrients.
Cocoa, on the other hand, is still technically a cacao product since it comes from the cacao bean, but it’s much more processed. Cocoa powder has the cacao shell, nib and cocoa butters removed.
Due to the differences in processing, cacao and cocoa have very different tastes. Cacao is much more bitter tasting than cocoa, so if a recipe calls for one or the other - be sure to stick with what the recipe indicates.
Is cocoa powder dairy free and vegan?
Cocoa powder is naturally dairy free and vegan; however, milk products may be introduced during manufacturing and packaging of cocoa powder products.
Always be sure to check the product label for any “may contain milk” warnings. Check the brand section below for specific dairy free and vegan cocoa powder products.
What about hot cocoa?
Hot cocoa powders contain more ingredients than just cocoa powder. Often used to make a hot mug of chocolatey deliciousness, these products can also contain wheat as thickening agents. (They also quite often contain milk products, so watch out if you’re dairy free as well!)
Always check the ingredient listing and product label of hot cocoa and instant cocoa mixes to make sure they are gluten free.
And don’t use them in baking - they aren’t the same as cocoa powder and your results will not be as you expect.
- Is Cadbury cocoa powder gluten free? Yes, Cadbury cocoa powder is safe for anyone on a strict gluten free diet.
- Is Hershey’s cocoa powder gluten free? Yes! If you’re on a gluten free diet, you can enjoy Hershey’s Cocoa and Special Dark Cocoa powders. These products are also milk-free, so they are a good choice for anyone on a dairy free or vegan diet!
- Is Dr Oetker cocoa powder gluten free? Yes, Dr Oetker cocoa powder is gluten free. It only contains cocoa powder and acidity correctors (potassium hydroxide, potassium carbonates). The product does have a “may contain milk” warning on the label, so it is not safe for anyone on a strict dairy free or vegan diet.
- Is Nestle cocoa powder gluten free? Yes, Nestle cocoa powder is gluten free - it does not contain any gluten ingredients or warnings. It’s also dairy free and vegan.
- Is Ghirardelli cocoa powder gluten free? No, this brand may not be gluten free. Their website indicates that their Majestic Premium Cocoa Powder and Unsweetened Ground Cocoa may contain milk, soy, tree nuts, wheat, and/or egg. Avoid this brand if you’re gluten free, dairy free or vegan.
- Is Camino cocoa powder gluten free? Yes! Camino cocoa powders (natural and Dutch-process) are gluten free. They may contain milk, so are not suitable for dairy free and vegan diets.
How to use cocoa powder
Before we dive into a couple of rich & delicious chocolate recipes using cocoa powder, I want to review one thing:
Always use the cocoa powder that the recipe specifies. Since natural cocoa powder is acidic and Dutch-process cocoa powder is neutral, this has a massive impact on how these ingredients interact with leaveners (baking soda and/or baking powder). Acidity in the recipe activates the leavener, so if it’s missing from the cocoa powder you’re using - the resulting baked goods will fall flat. (Literally!)
Can’t get enough chocolate? Make a batch of Gluten Free Double Chocolate Chip Cookies. You need just a half hour and one bowl! Chocolate chips + cocoa powder = heavenly double chocolate cookies!
Ever made a brookie? These Gluten Free Cookie Brownies satisfy cravings for both chocolate chip cookies and brownies! Use your favorite brand of cocoa powder for the brownie portion. This one is a crowd pleaser!